ROI (return on investment) is something that we think about routinely. Investors want to know what type of return they can expect to receive on their money. Students want to know the benefit of pursuing specialized education. People in challenged relationships seek to understand what they can expect to gain from their investment of time and resources into therapy or other interventions.
In most cases, ROI is measured by the Bottom Line. If the effort and investment result in a meaningful profit or gain, then it is considered to be worthwhile. If not, then the ROI is said to negligible and the enterprise not worthy of future outlay. However, there is one notable exception to this rule. It relates particularly to this time of year, when we stand before our Maker in solemn hope that we will experience a positive judgment.
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (Michtav M’Eliyahu, Vol II, pp. 96-97) writes that our judgment rides not on our “bottom line” actions, but on the inner desires and motivators that exist within our hearts. He supports his argument by citing Nachmandes, who writes that Rosh Hashana is a “yom hadin b’rachamim” (a day of justice couched in mercy) and Yom Kippur a “yom harachamim b’din” (a day of mercy framed in strict justice).
The explanation to Nachmandes’ words, says Rabbi Dessler, is as follows. Despite the seriousness of Rosh Hashana, we have the capacity to stir divine mercy on that holy day by demonstrating such qualities of giving and compassion towards others. Conversely, we have the ability to transform the compassionate day of Yom Kippur into one of strict judgment if we are unable to engage in meaningful change.
Hashem studies our desires and judges us accordingly. He asks, “What benefit will there be for him if I were to grant him the blessings that he seeks? What is the potential ROI to such a response?” If Hashem can discern a true desire for growth and repentance within us, then He will see the investment as more worthwhile. If not, then He may see the best recourse to be something very different than what we request, God forbid.
As we approach Hashem in the coming weeks, we should aspire to give Him every opportunity to view us as individuals and a community who are on an upwards trajectory, deserving of inscription in the Book of Life.
I wish us all a happy and healthy New Year